Jul 27, 2009

The New LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Review

We are about 3-4 days from retailers across most countries in Europe and North America start selling the new #8547 NXT 2.0 kits. You can already pre-order them from some online retailers (e.g. amazon.com) and LEGO shop @ home web site.

Like many of the bloggers here in The NXTStep who are MINDSTORMS Community partners, I am very lucky to have been 'involved' in the development cycle of the NXT 2.0 right from the start. MCP's have been instrumental in helping LEGO define many of the features LEGO have added to the product.

In recent weeks there has been some excellent posts here about the new NXT so you get a feel for what you get with the new kit.

I just made a video of the four NXT kit stock models in action - as seen through the eyes of a two year old. Click on the video link below:




If you missed the recent posts here about NXT 2.0 - Here is a quick blurb about the new kit:

The LEGO® MINDSTORMS® NXT 2.0 set has a bigger and revised element assortment of 619 elements, 16 building and programming challenges for 4 new fun and action-packed robotic models complete with building instructions [plus 10 more you can download shortly]

The new hardware mix consist of an NXT micro-controller, 3 Interactive Servo Motors – with built-in Rotation Sensors, 1 Ultrasonic Sensor, 2 Touch Sensors and the new Colour Sensor with triple functionality; it acts a Colour Sensor – detecting different colours, as a Light Sensor – seeing different light intensities and also works as a Colour Lamp.

Among the new software features there will be applications that makes it possible to make your robot display the images and play the sounds you want it to! There is also a Remote control application that allows for instant and direct control of your robot without any special programming needed.



Edit:

Following the last comments, I thought I will rate each of the stock models the kit comes with for ease of build and playability:

(1) Alpha Rex:



[humanoid robot - that can walk turn, dance, talk, can see and avoid obstacles, can grab and distinguish between different coloured objects]



  • Playability: 10
  • Ease of build: Pretty Hard [@ 2 hours]
  • Building instructions: Excellent



(2) Colour Sorter


[robotic sorting machine that can sort different coloured balls and dispense into sorting trays or catapult them]



  • Playability: 9.5
  • Ease of build: Hard [@ 2 hours – including optional catapult]
  • Building instructions: Excellent


(3) Robogator


[An animal robot that acts and moves like an alligator; It protect its area and jumps forward and snap at anything that comes too near]



  • Playability: 9.0
  • Ease of build: easy [@ 1.5 hours]
  • Building instructions: Excellent


(4) Shooterbot




[A moving vehicle robot (with tracks and a shooter) that can guard your room and will shoot balls at intruders!]




  • Playability: 9.0
  • Ease of build: easy [@ 45 mins]
  • Building instructions: Excellent and VERY easy to follow

Gear-Sensing NXT Transmission


NXT user Sean Corzine emailed me a picture and description of this nice modification to the 3-Speed Transmission with Clutch project on nxtprograms.com. His design adds the ultrasonic sensor to "see" the gearshift lever to determine which position it is in (high, medium, or low), then he added Math blocks to calculate the resulting output shaft speed based on the input RPM and gear ratio, and modified the NXT display to display output RPM instead of engine RPM.

This is a great example of using your available parts and some creativity to solve a problem, and it also reminds me of modern cars -- even in a modern manual transmission, the car's computer is always "watching" what you do in order to try to optimize fuel usage, minimize emmisions, etc. The manual transmission in the new Nissan 370Z even reacts during a shift to blip the engine RPM to match the new gear. Hmm..., anyone want to try adding that to Sean's idea?

Original NXT Kit Sold Out at LEGO Store

The original NXT retail (8527) set is now showing "Sold Out" at the LEGO online store. However, amazon.com still appears to be selling both the original 8527 and the new NXT 2.0 (8547) versions (both currently at the NXT 2.0 price). If you are considering getting the original kit (in order to be able to build models designed for the original set), now would probably be a good time, before the only remaining ones become harder to get and more expensive...

For more info on building older projects with the newer kit, see this page, which I recently updated to include a complete list of missing original 8527 parts when using the newer 8547 kit.

Jul 23, 2009

But will my NXT add me as a Facebook friend?

A while back Jim posted to the blog about this creation by Caleb Larson, which uses a computer to interface with the web, and then the computer uses an NXT as part of a "display device". Cool. But I was wondering when the NXT would do more of the internet portion of the interaction. Well, along comes Linus Atorf, a regular contributor over on NXTasy, with a way to use the NXT to retrieve and display weather from the internet, nicely documented. Very cool.

Now along comes Xander Soldaat, another NXTasy regular and someone who's been pushing the envelope on both sensors (testing them, making them) and languages (he's written a number of drivers for RobotC). Taking internet-saavy LEGO to the next logical step (and a prototype sensor from Mindsensors), Xander has an NXT that can Twitter. Right now he has it detecting how often his dogs bark. When they bark, the NXT determines the number, and tweets it out to the world. Of course, it could tweet any number of other things: put a pressure sensor in the dog's bed to let you know when they snuggle in for the night. Have an US sensor at the door so you know when they are crossing their rear legs, needing to go outside (heck, train them to push a button to "call" you with a tweet). Tweeting the security state of your house ("the front door has been opened"), or anything else you might want is now fairly easy to do.

Heck, use Linus's method to retrieve data and Xanders to send it, and you could network an unlimited number of NXT all around the world using tweets. They could even start posting and following their own blogs.

What's that phrase? "I for one welcome our new robotic overlords"...

NXT2.0 Alpharex

So what do you do when you get a new NXT2.0 kit? You open it and build the Alpharex model of course!

It took me about 2 hours in total to build and load a very simple program.

Enjoy!





--
Damien Kee
www.domabotics.com

Jul 22, 2009

Article on Rubik's Cube Sover in Scientific American


Last week, the renowned Scientific American magazine publised an interesting on-line article about a 12-year-old who built a NXT-based Rubik's Cube Solver, inspired by their father, an IBM research engineer.
Also Daniele Benedettelli's amazing Lego Rubik Utopia robot is mentioned.

Jul 21, 2009

Guest Blogger - James T.

From reader James Trobaugh:

I just got done trying out an great LEGO tool that I never knew existed
before. Its the LEGO Ruler (
http://shop.lego.com/product/?p=852759&LangId=2057&ShipTo=US ), I would
recommend this to any FLL team as a must have.

Its a very simple tool
http://www.majhost.com/gallery/thinice/ForsythFLL/LEGORULER/dsc02391.jpg

measures smooth technic beams
http://www.majhost.com/gallery/thinice/ForsythFLL/LEGORULER/dsc02393.jpg

measures axles ( awesome! )
http://www.majhost.com/gallery/thinice/ForsythFLL/LEGORULER/dsc02394.jpg

measures studs
http://www.majhost.com/gallery/thinice/ForsythFLL/LEGORULER/dsc02395.jpg

Also the left side can measure brick height.

I figured I'd pass this along if you had never seen it before, I know I
hadn't.

Summer Robotics Workshops

Starting today, I'll be running two week-long NXT robotics workshops to teach young students (9+) the basics of creating robots with the NXT. I'll be sure to post pictures of the event and a description of how it went after it's over!

-Jonathan

Jul 17, 2009

Mayan Week 2009 completed

Got an email from Christine about her Mayan Week 2009. I love reading this stuff and seeing what the kids come up with. This year, Christine modified the challenges a bit - some nice new tricks for the participants.

You can read about the challenges and see some pictures here.

As for "LEGO MINSDTORMS NXT 2.0: The King's Treasure" - look for 5 more challenges using the new kit. But don't worry - I'm doing my best to make certain that NXT 1.0 owners will be able to run the challenges with minor changes/modifications to the robot and/or challenge area.

I'll try to get some teaser photos uploaded very soon.

Jul 16, 2009

Desktop CNC cardboard router

Here is a fantastic example of how the NXT can be used as a prototyping device. You can see in the 2nd half of the video where this group has used the NXT to try different approaches to the problem. They start out with a 2 wheel mobile robot, but later decide to move to a setup with strings to pull the router around. I would hate to see a 2 wheeler with a blade getting out of control! :)



While the final product doesn't appear to have an NXT in it, it is great to see the evolution of a idea from concept through to a real product.

More info here:
The device is the brainchild of DK Ahn, a designer and graduate of London's Royal College of Arts.


--
Damien Kee
www.domabotics.com

M, the candies sorter from "One-Kit Wonders"

On request by some readers of the "LEGO NXT MINDSTORMS One-Kit Wonders" book, I have created a video of my contribution to it:
M, the M&M's peanut candies sorter.

The quality of the video is not optimal by far, as the movie snippets I made back then were meant for internal and transient purpose only. :(
Nevertheless, it should provide some idea on the robot.

Jul 14, 2009

Jim's Dell Laptop Debacle - Final Words

Well, I gave Dell two weeks to find a middle ground with me regarding my issue a month ago with my Dell laptop and the Next Day Service I purchased but did not receive. Here's an update and my closing remarks (thank you, readers, for being patient with me while I tried to resolve this problem and share the results with my blog readers).

* Total cost of Next Day Service fee: $168.00
* Total time to repair Laptop: June 10 to June 22 - 7 business days, not counting day it died and day it was repaired

* Total billable hours lost: 11 (really 22 but I was able to use my Backup PC for some of my work)
* Value of work lost: $1100.00 (two small editing assignments lost, too - estimated around $200-300 each)

Last week, Dell offered me a 17% discount on my next purchase - for a $400 netbook, that comes to around $68.00 - $100 less than the cost of the Next Day Service (I politely declined the offer.)

So, here's my Final Words on the matter:

1. I will no longer be a Dell customer - no more laptops, desktops, printers... nothing.
2. I would encourage this blog's readers to seriously consider the trouble I had in getting my laptop serviced on time when considering their own purchase.
3. The small print in Dell's Next Day Service agreement, in a nutshell, says that Dell will attempt to fix your computer the Next Business Day but if they don't, tough luck.
4. Dell has lost one customer - me - and, with an average of 45,000 unique visitors to this blog each month, I'm guessing they've lost a few more. And it only cost the company $168.00 - what a deal!

I've been a Dell user since 1997 and am somewhat surprised that this issue has gone this far. I'll conclude by saying that while I've enjoyed my Dell laptop, I welcome my readers' suggestions on where to go for my next laptop.

Bye Bye, Dell.

Jim

Jul 13, 2009

Preparing for FLL 2009-2010 Season

I'm anxious to hear from all the teams regarding their thoughts on the new theme, Smart Move. I'd also enjoy hearing how your teams are preparing for the upcoming season.

Marco over at TechBricks.com sent over this update about some FLL resources that TechBrick:

Fundraising Idea: http://www.techbrick.com/Lego/TechBrick/Fundraising/index.html

Smart Move worksheets: http://www.techbrick.com/Lego/Lego2009/Resources/index.html

Please let me know if your team has developed any resources that it cares to share with other FLL teams and I'll point them in your direction or make your resource(s) available via a download on The NXT Step.

Reminder about Raffle

Just a quick reminder that the deadline for the LEGO Raffle is less than one month away (August 10)... at the current time, I only have 56 submissions. You can read the rules here.

If the number of participants breaks 200, one of the random names drawn will receive a new NXT 2.0 retail kit... the runner-up will receive a Technic kit. If 250 submissions are received, two NXT 2.0 kits will be awarded.

Jul 10, 2009

How to store LEGO in the classroom?


I often get asked what is the best way to store LEGO in a classroom environment. Jim's recent post is an excellent solution for the majority of people but may not suit a classroom, which often involves many kits and must be easy to secure / transport around various classrooms.

As part of the LEGO engineering mailing list, we asked the question "How do you store your LEGO kits?" and got a wide range of answers from teachers all over the world. I've collected all the different responses and turned it into a pdf that you can download from here - www.domabotics.com

If you are a teacher using robots in your classroom, how do you store your LEGO?

Edit: Dave Parker has another excellent method: "I use 12 gallon storage tubs with the built-in hinged lids, which are sturdy and stack well on the floor, or in a car/truck. For holding parts, these can hold two of the LEGO Education boxes (e.g. 9797 + 9648), each of which has the two sorting trays. Or for student kits and in-progress projects, they can hold one LEGO Ed box on the bottom with plenty of room on top for the robot and partially assembled stuff still protected inside the tub."

--
Damien Kee

Jul 9, 2009

NXT 2.0 vs. Original NXT: Which one to Buy?

Right now we are in an interesting situation in that you can still buy the original NXT retail set (8527) or order the new NXT 2.0 kit (8547). I have been getting questions about which one to buy, and also what it will mean to have one kit along with project instructions intended for the other kit. LEGO was kind enough to provide me with a pre-release version of the NXT 2.0 kit, which I have been working with for while now, so here is some information, opinions, and recommendations that may help. I will abbreviate NXT 2.0 as NXT2 and the original NXT (8527) as NXT1.

1. First off, I will say that comparing NXT2 to NXT1 when “free building” projects of my own design using only the contents of one kit, I do prefer NXT2. Treads are a welcome addition, the Zamor (small ball) shooter is fun, the color sensor is a very nice upgrade from the light sensor, having two touch sensors is very useful and worth giving up the sound sensor for, and the software has some nice additions. Also, overall I think the mix of building parts is improved, and I find myself generally getting stuck less running out of parts and sizes that I need when limiting myself to one kit.

2. Considering building projects from instructions that you find so far on my site at nxtprograms.com and other web sites and books written for NXT1, unfortunately, most projects intended for NXT1 are not buildable as-is with only the NXT2 kit. The same will also be true for most projects designed for NXT2 if you have NXT1. If you are not limited to just the kit contents and can buy spare parts, this is somewhat less of an issue, but it is something important to be aware of. The kits are very similar overall, but several differences in parts availability and part counts make cross-building difficult. For example, the NXT1 kit has 11 15-beams and 4 13-beams, but NXT2 has 2 15-beams and 10 13-beams. A lot of my NXT1 projects have overall dimensions suited to 15-beams, but for NXT2, 13 is a better maximum dimension. Of course you can get more 15-beams and other parts in various ways, and I have posted some solutions here.

3. The NXT2 software is fully backwards-compatible with NXT1. You can load an NXT1 program (.rbt), and compile and download it to an NXT2 brick. This means that if you buy NXT2, you can use programs intended for NXT1 that you find on nxtprograms.com and other places, or any programs you wrote yourself for NXT1. This also means that if you have a mixture of NXT1 and NXT2, the NXT2 software can handle it all for you (including the sound sensor and other things not directly included in NXT2). However, note that if you connect an NXT1 brick to the NXT2 software and download a program, the NXT2 software will insist on upgrading the firmware of the brick to the NXT2 version.

4. The NXT1 software is not generally compatible with programs written for NXT2. Some very simple NXT2 programs can be loaded into NXT1 and compiled and uploaded to an NXT1 brick, but many cannot. Generally, you will be able to open and view the contents of NXT2 programs saved in the normal .rbt format in order to look at them, but don’t expect to be able to use them. NXT2 also includes a new .rbtx format saved by the new Pack-and-Go feature which is very useful because it includes MyBlocks, graphics, and sound files needed by the program, and is compressed and thus much more compact for all programs, but this format is not readable by NXT1 at all.

Conclusion and Recommendations

If you don’t have any NXT kit yet, and you can manage $360 (plus shipping and tax), the best thing to buy right now in my opinion is NXT2 plus the Education Resource Set (9648) from LEGO Education. NXT2 + 9648 is very close to being a superset of NXT1, so you have (almost) the best of both worlds. You will have NXT2 and everything it can do, you will have enough parts to build most models intended for NXT1 (from web/books/etc), and you will have a number of other cool misc. special parts as well. You will still be missing some NXT1 parts. Here is an analysis of the missing parts and suggestions for where to get them if necessary.

If you are new to NXT, want to spend less than $300, and want a set primarily to design and build your own projects, get NXT2.

Teachers and others that are dependent on existing instructions for NXT1 may want to stick with NXT1 (or the Education version of the NXT) for a while, then start saving money and putting together a plan for how to move to NXT2 later. Note that all of your NXT1 equipment will still be usable (bricks, motors, sensors, spare parts) when you transition/upgrade.

If you are new to NXT, have a budget of only $250 or so, want to be able to primarily build projects from existing instructions available on the web and books, and can’t wait, NXT1 is still available and is still a great kit. Then if and when you get an NXT2 set later, you can upgrade the firmware on your old brick and switch to the NXT2 software, and then you will have a great two-kit combination that will allow lots of interesting projects, including NXT-to-NXT Bluetooth projects.

For fans of existing project instructions, though, please also consider that LEGO has said that the mindstorms.com web site will be posting (free) instructions for several NXT2 projects in addition to the four that come with the NXT2 set. I will also be posting NXT2 projects to nxtprograms.com when and as time allows, and many other NXT2 users will start to post their projects to other places such as NXTLOG, and the variety will grow over time!

Jul 7, 2009

We grieve for Rick Siegrist

We are shocked to hear that on Friday, 3rd of July, Rick Siegrist, who worked as Creative Lead on the NXT 2.0 project at LEGO® from June 2007 until October 2008, has passed away in a car accident in Michigan, USA while being on vacation with his family.

This tragic and untimely death leaves us and the complete NXT community behind with great sadness.

You might want to leave some comment in Rick's online obituary.

Black NXT Bargin!

If you haven't seen it yet...you've been under a rock...and here's a tiny pic to drool over. If you're looking to buy but haven't grabbed yourself one of these nice looking 10 years of MINDSTORMS commemorative Black NXT Bricks...you're in luck! Amazon.com has reduced their price from $169.99 to $127.99 (USD) w/ free Super Saver shipping. That's a pretty good savings! Grab one if you dare.

New FLL team training product

Marco over at robotmats.com is offering a new product for FLL teams - you can see a video and read more info at http://www.robotmats.com/site/index.htm

We'd love to hear some feedback about these mats - if anyone is interested in doing a product review, just email me or add a comment here and we'll be happy to post your review.

Jul 3, 2009

NXT 2.0 can be ordered now!


The new LEGO® MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 retail set can be ordered now from the offical LEGO Shop.
For some countries (including the USA), the site states that the set will be shipped on 1st of August, for others (UK or Germany, for instance), it's available immediately (some people here in Germany have reported to have received it already).

Jul 1, 2009

Fana'Briques 2009

Last weekend, the annual Fana'Briques took place for the 3rd time in Rosheim, Alsace (France). It's the largest LEGO® in Central Europe, and this time, the topic was "LEGO® - Basketball". I have been there by myself as an exhibitor, alongside with two remotely controlled Basketball playing NXT robots (created from the new NXT 2.0 Set):



Fana'Briques 2009 was a great experience again and a tremendeous success.
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